Spring Hill Sinkhole Tests New Law

Senate bill 408 poses challenges for a homeowner in Spring Hill, FL

Senate bill 408 poses challenges for a homeowner in Spring Hill, FL

By MICHAEL D. BATES | Hernando Today
Published: June 6, 2011
Updated: 06/06/2011 03:51 pm

SPRING HILL – SPRING HILL State Sen. Mike Fasano said the sinkhole that opened at 4016 Everett Avenue in Spring Hill this week is an example of why Gov. Rick Scott should not have passed Senate Bill 408 into law.

Even though the home has a huge, gaping hole next to it, the new provisions in the bill state that insurance companies must only cover structural damage to the main building owned by the policy holder, and not the sinkhole itself, said Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who opposed SB 408 and urged Scott to veto the legislation.

By Monday afternoon, the 25-foot hole had eaten away at the foundation of the home and was under investigation by sinkhole specialists and claims adjustors.

Everett Avenue, off Landover Boulevard, is located in an area of Spring Hill prone to sinkholes.

The homeowner declined to talk to Hernando Today.

“Unfortunately, the homeowner is twice hit by the new law,” Fasano said in an email. “If the homeowner, out of their own pockets, does not fix the hole and it continues to grow and cause damage to the house, the insurance company may deny any future claims.

“This is a double outrage upon homeowners, most of whom do not have the luxury of holding what could be tens of thousands of dollars in the bank for just this purpose,” Fasano said.

John Thompson, a homeowner and advocate of sinkhole protection rights for residents, also criticized the legislation that prohibited homeowners from submitting sinkhole claims to their insurance company unless there was structural damage to the home.

The bill was designed to cut back on fraudulent sinkhole claims.

But Thompson argues that it leaves too many homeowners without protection and the Everett Avenue case is a prime example.

Neighbor Teresa Morales said she has three holes on her property and has open claims with the insurance company.

“I’m scared to go in my own backyard,” Morales said.

The other neighbor, J.F. Martin walked over to the property Monday to see the commotion.

Martin said he hasn’t seen anything on his property but living so close to one makes him nervous.
County commissioners last month adopted an ordinance that creates a “cradle to grave” tracking process of sinkhole claims.

With Hernando County losing some $150,000 a year in tax revenue due in part to bogus sinkhole claims, commissioners said it was time to create a beefed-up ordinance to better track claims.
Residents will now be required to pay for a flat fee permit for sinkhole investigations which will be filed with the county. The cost of that permit has not been determined.

Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek has said the number of sinkhole claims have increased at an unprecedented rate in Hernando County.

In 2005, the property appraiser’s office received 58 requests from property owners requesting a market value adjustment due to certified engineer-confirmed sinkhole activity on their property.
By 2009, the number rose to 402.

As of October 2010, the property appraiser’s office received more than 1,700 sinkhole claims in an attempt to lower the market value on properties.